It is a sign of the sterility of Westminster politics that the best Ed Miliband can do is to make mischief by exploiting the coalition’s most visceral divisions, and that the most visceral divisions in the coalition have been about the constitution and the European Union. These dry and tedious matters are the two issues that have derailed the Liberal-Conservative love‑train, emboldened the Tory right and fatally weakened both Clegg and Cameron.
Tories delight in a spat with Brussels, because upsetting foreigners is second only to killing them in stimulating the pleasure centres of the Conservative Party. Liberals, on the other hand, love Europe. They adore anything continental: the cheeses, the voting systems, anything. Their party’s whole raison d’etre is the vast superiority of French campsites. I refer, obviously, to sleek, modern Liberals, not the old-fashioned radicals who were content with a good cheddar, a thermos and a wet walking holiday, reading a biography of Joe Grimond.
And to be fair to Liberals, all of them have always loved democracy. The left is ambivalent about it. We pay lip-service to it but can’t help suspecting that people might be too stupid to realise the high regard we have for them. And Conservatives, despite belligerently enthusing about western democratic values, have never truly been convinced by this country’s experiment with universal suffrage. Their greatest terror is the mob. That’s probably why they want the troops home from Afghanistan. They don’t want to be left without a squadron of dragoons when the millworkers get restless.
If they were honest with themselves, they’d admit that they were perfectly happy with the House of Lords as it used to be. Conservatives like things that are inherited: money, land, property, titles. Most of them even have hereditary disorders.